Trieste colloquium on Sammelbände and collectors, 12-13 October 2023

The importance of miscellanies in the survival of manuscripts and printed books is well established, as has been amply shown in the meeting held at Udine in September 2021. What still has to be studied and better understood is the role the circulation of miscellanies had and continues to have in book-collecting and in the antiquarian book trade, in terms of their preservation or elimination through disbinding and dispersal. To begin with the example of the first great collector of printed books, Hernán Colón, who in his journeys through the Europe of the time purchased large quantities of editions published in France and Italy in the early years of the Sixteenth century. After his death in 1539 his magnificent library remained like a ‘time-capsule’, with many rare or unique items that had been bound up collectively by their original owner, while others were brought together in volume form by Juan de Loaysa in the 1680s. Even though impoverished and reduced to about a third of its original size, the Colombina Library in Seville is an unavoidable departure point for all research on the history of book-collecting.

In the libraries of the aristocratic bibliophiles who in France, for example, in the second half of the Seventeenth and in the Eighteenth, devoted themselves to collecting antiquités gauloises, such as Châtre de Cangé or Guyon de Sardière, or livres curieux et rares, such as Cisternay Du Fay, Girardot de Préfond or Gaignat, up to the imposing collections of the duke de La Vallière and the marquis de Paulmy, there were also miscellanies. In the German-speaking world the libraries formerly of the ducal family of Brunswick-Lüneburg at Wolfenbüttel or of the dukes of Bavaria at Munich hold numerous miscellanies that go back to the origins of the same; in the English-speaking one, important collections such as the Old Royal Library (1757), Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode (1799), and King George III (1828) enriched the recently established library of the British Museum, while the splendid collection of the Spencer family at Althorp – assembled between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries – became the founding nucleus of the John Rylands Library at Manchester (1892).

The long history of antiquarian book collecting continues with the 19th-century passion for the same, which flourished following the arrival on the market of huge quantities of early books confiscated from the libraries of the émigrés and of the religious orders, which for decades were not only sought after by collectors, but also made the fortune of book-sellers, who became major protagonists in the market for rare and valuable books. France became the largest and most important centre, with England as its only real rival, albeit very different in cultural terms, and so the major collections that were brought together and dispersed belong mostly to these two countries. The collections of 19th– and 20th-century bibliophiles, when they were not donated to or purchased by institutional libraries – as happened with Francis Douce (1834), Jean-Michel Leber (1838), Thomas Grenville (1847), Henri d’Orléans d’Aumale (1897), Auguste Dutuit (1902), Francis W. Bourdillon (1921), Jean Masson (1925), or James and Henri de Rothschild (1947) –, were recorded in memorable auctions, whose catalogues are a major source of information for specialists: for instance, in France: Cailhava (1845), Essling (1847), Cigongne (1861), Yémeniz (1867), La Roche-Lacarelle (1867), Firmin-Didot (1881), Lignerolles (1894), Pichon (1897), Double (1897); or, in England: Lang (1828), Heber (1835), Charles Fairfax Murray (1910), and in more recent times: Brunschwig (1955), Scheler (2005), or Bonna (2015/2017). A different significance involves the catalogues relating to bibliokleptomaniac Guglielmo Libri, who from 1847 onwards disposed of his important collections, mostly obtained by purloining books from public libraries, through a series of auctions. All these catalogues, whether for sale or for auction, mostly published for the dispersal of the collection, record numerous miscellanies that are often difficult to recognise in today’s libraries, also because in the meantime they have been disassembled, while volumes with these prestigious provenances, together with others previously not recorded, continue to appear in the antiquarian book market.

The conference will look at the rapport between book collecting and miscellanies in order to explore the attitude of collectors over the course of time to these volumes. In many cases, binding up in a miscellany ensured a quick, cheap solution for books of a small format, containing popular texts and requiring only a simple binding. What interest did they evoke for collectors? To what extent did they meet their requirements and expectations? What part did the physical features of these volumes, such as their condition and make-up (the similarities or dissimilarities of content, authorship, language, and publisher), play in the choice made by the collector? Were they collected in order to be kept in their original state or to be broken up and eventually reassembled?

The same questions involve antiquarian booksellers, who from the 19th century onwards played an increasingly prominent role in directing and controlling the passion and the hobby of book collecting. Very often it is them who, for purely commercial motives, break up miscellanies in order to sell them as single items. A famous London bookseller, Ernst Philip Goldschmidt, in a catalogue of 1927, stated that he was willing to sell singly the 18 items, almost all of them unique, in one miscellany in his possession, if no one was willing to purchase it as a whole. Fortunately, somebody did come forward and the book is now at Harvard’s Houghton Library.

But to what extent are the same issues being posed and faced in modern booksellers and auction houses?

The conference is jointly organised by the Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici of the University of Trieste and by the Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici e del Patrimonio Culturale of the University of Udine, with the collaboration of the Biblioteca Civica “Attilio Hortis” of Trieste. The event avails itself also of the support of two Italian National Research Projects (PRIN 2017): The Dawn of Italian Publishing. Technology, Texts and Books in Central and Northern Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries (local coordinator: Neil Harris) and Transizione o rivoluzione? Per un nuovo paradigma della lingua e della letteratura francese tra Medioevo e Rinascimento: versi e prosa, manoscritti e stampe. Repertori, studi, edizioni critiche (local coordinator: Sergio Cappello). The meeting forms part of the activities of the research group Sammelband 15-16 (https://sammelband.hypotheses.org). The conference will take place in the Costantinides room on the ground floor of the Museo Sartorio (largo Papa Giovanni XXIII, 1; https://museosartoriotrieste.it/civico-museo-sartorio/).

The programme of the event is available as a pdf document:



Cite this blog post
Malcolm Walsby (2023, October 8). Trieste colloquium on Sammelbände and collectors, 12-13 October 2023. Sammelband15-16. Retrieved May 22, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/tvg6

Malcolm Walsby

Professeur d'Histoire du livre, Enssib / Université de Lyon

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